Anne Khodabandeh (Singleton), Iran Interlink, January 24 2015
Albania’s efforts to improve its human rights and bring them into line with European and international standards could be seriously undermined if it does not take action to curtail the activities of the terrorist Mojahedin Khalq cult organisation in that country. There is strong evidence that the MEK has bought land and property just outside Tirana in order to create a closed cult enclave similar to ones in Iraq, and that it is using coercion to keep refugees captive there where they are subject to systematic human rights abuses outside the supervision of the Albanian authorities.
The MEK is a terrorist organisation. It is being dismantled in Iraq because its presence and its activities there are illegal under Iraq’s constitutional law. UN officials have made high level efforts to persuade third countries to accept these individuals, in particular those with previous connections to those countries. Understandably, most Western countries have been extremely reluctant to allow trained terrorists into their countries even as refugees. Albania has, however, generously accepted to receive some of the Iranians as refugees. Since 2013, over four hundred of these former MEK combatants have been transferred from Camp Liberty in Iraq to Tirana by the UNHCR as refugees.
Unfortunately UN officials responsible for undertaking to transfer the residents of Camp Liberty have been hindered further in their task by the cult nature of the group. The MEK leaders have effectively imprisoned and isolated the residents of Camp Liberty just outside Baghdad, and refuse to allow them to leave independently or have contact with the outside world. This has meant that families wishing to help their loved ones have been unable to do so. MEK treatment of these people involves the violation of nearly all their internationally recognised human rights; including the right to form a family, to enjoy citizenship, freedom of belief and many more.
Once they arrive in Albania one of the first things all the new arrivals do is to contact their families and seek out other forms of support. The refugees are given time limited support by the UN refugee agency – accommodation and a small living allowance – which is deemed sufficient for them to settle in their new country and make new lives for themselves.
But the MEK does not easily relinquish its control over these former members and has made every effort to prevent them from living independently. One obvious reason is that the MEK want to maintain numbers so they can advertise to Western sponsors as an opposition group. But more importantly, these new arrivals are desperate to tell their stories. They want to speak out about the suffering they endured, some for many, many years. Their stories are of terrible internal human rights abuses committed by the MEK leaders over a period of thirty years (documented by HRW and RAND) and which are still ongoing. They are also witnesses to the MEK’s war crimes while the leaders Massoud and Maryam Rajavi collaborated with Saddam Hussein. The MEK is desperate to silence them.
As the first group arrived, the MEK dispatched senior members from Paris to intimidate them and re-create the cult hierarchy in Tirana. Although unable to physically contain these people, the MEK first offered money and then issued threats to coerce them into compliance. Even so, over half of them rejected the MEK.
The MEK has now created a physical space in which the cult can continue to impose the same strict controls that exist in all its bases. Albanian authorities overseeing the resettlement of these refugees may choose to believe the MEK’s deceptive arguments that this is a humanitarian act because this appears to fulfil the obligations the government has toward the refugees. But former MEK members and cult experts know that already this inaccessible enclave hides systematic human rights abuses.
A country’s commitment to improve human rights for its citizens must not be allowed to exclude the most vulnerable people, including refugees. If Albania is serious about ratifying international human rights conventions and harmonising existing legislation to comply with European standards this issue must be addressed as a matter of urgency before conditions for these vulnerable refugees become intractable.q